Who We Are
Established in 1981, Centro Presente is a member-driven, state-wide Latin American immigrant organization dedicated to the self-determination and self-sufficiency of the Latin American immigrant community of Massachusetts.
Operated and led primarily by Central American immigrants, Centro Presente struggles for immigrant rights and for economic and social justice. Through the integration of community organizing, leadership development and basic services, Centro Presente strives to give our members voice and build community power.
Our Organizing Model
Leadership development is a very important component of our mission and our work. We recognize that the members of our community bring to this country their personal experiences and capabilities and in return we provide them the space to build opportunities to develop and exercise leadership. Our leadership development model focuses on community organizing around specific themes like immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights and civic participation.
The model engages, internally, our staff, board, members, and program volunteers, and externally, allies and other community stakeholders. For example, our Board is composed of Latino immigrant workers and youth members. Through participation in our committees, the members of Centro Presente have the opportunity to be actively engaged in leading campaigns and activities that impact their own lives, as well as the lives of their families and the broader community.
We provide our members with the opportunity to not only receive workshops and to meet and share experiences with others, but also to train others in what they have learned, to organize new members and to exercise their leadership in the community. More than just action, Centro Presente provides a space for our members to reflect and collectively analyze important issues, such as our definitions of leaders and leadership, the situation of immigrant workers in the US and in Central America and other Latin American countries, the connection between the global economic system and immigration, and its impact locally.
Through our civic participation work we are trying to engage our communities to be active politically and to understand both how government touches their lives and how they can play a role in government at local, state and federal levels. Our leadership development model empowers members to advocate for policies that improve their lives in the communities where they live and at the national level.
Centro Presente was founded on a legacy of solidarity with and service to the immigrant community. We have not left that behind but rather have enhanced our services by incorporating into them community organizing and member empowerment. For example, our adult education classes in English, beyond teaching conversational and written English, also provide an opportunity to discuss issues of concern to the immigrant community. Our legal services do not just provide an opportunity to navigate the logistics of immigration paperwork, but also the occasion to inform our members about immigration system reform and what they can do to get involved in advocating for a reform that truly benefits them.
Staying true to our organizing model and mission, our members are not passive receivers of services but active participants in learning, advocating and organizing.
A brief history of Centro Presente
Centro Presente was founded in 1981 by Sister Rose Marie Cummings in direct response to the rapidly growing community of Salvadoran refugees fleeing violence, government repression and instability during the civil conflicts in Central America in the 1980s. Many came to settle in the Central Square area of Cambridge, where they joined hands with the faith-based and legal services communities to create Centro Presente, to address their needs as a new immigrant community. Centro Presente was at the forefront of what was at the time a growing movement across the country struggling for rights for Central American immigrants facing discriminatory immigration policies, as well as struggling in solidarity with social movements in Central America to oppose US military intervention.
As part of those movements and through the integration of basic services and community organizing, we achieved many victories, including the enactment of the very first Temporary Protected Status program for Salvadorans in 1990, the ABC Settlement Agreement of 1991 which gave Salvadorans and Guatemalans the right to file brand new political asylum cases, and the enactment of the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act which gave ABC Class members the right to finally adjust their status to legal permanent residency.
In April of 2003, we launched a membership program – now over 1,500 members strong – so that our students, legal clients and broader constituency could have a more powerful voice, both within Centro Presente as an organization, and in the wider sphere of public policies that affect us as immigrants. As part of our transformational process, community organizing and leadership development have become the heart of Centro Presente’s work. While we continue to provide key legal and educational services, that work has become part of our community-organizing model, so that people coming to us to address an immediate and individual need are connected to others with whom they can build collective power.
The year 2008 brought remarkable changes to Centro Presente. In the month of June after nearly 25 years in the City of Cambridge, Centro Presente relocated to Somerville into a building strategically located in the heart of the Somerville Latino immigrant community. Also during 2008 we successfully completed an inclusive and democratic executive transition after our former Executive Director of ten years, Maria Elena Letona, left the organization and Patricia Montes, our former community organizing coordinator was elected to the position.